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Let’s talk ovaries. Specifically, let’s talk about one of the more difficult diseases to detect, until it’s in the advanced stages—ovarian cancer. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties is here to give you the facts about this disease that about 21,000 individuals with ovaries are diagnosed with every year.

What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that affects one or both of your ovaries, and usually occurs later in life. When the DNA in a cell stops working correctly, it creates abnormal cells that grow uncontrollably, forming tumors that, if left untreated, can spread to other parts of your body.

About one in 75 people who have ovaries will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer at some point in their lifetime, but it mostly affects people later in life, usually after menopause. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is very serious if not found early. It is the 5th deadliest cancer for cis women, and about 14,000 people die from every year.

Am I at Risk?

Like all cancers, there are certain factors that can put you at a higher risk. For ovarian cancer specifically, these are some things that can increase your chances:

  • Being over 55 years old
  • A family history of breast, gynecological (ovarian), or colon cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Certain mutations to genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Never having given birth
  • Having a body mass index (BMI) over 30
  • Infertility
  • Endometriosis
  • Never having been on the birth control pill

If you have a high risk, such as an inherited gene mutation, you can have your ovaries removed to lower your chances of developing cancer, but this comes with its own risks and would take away your ability to release eggs. If you’re concerned about ovarian cancer because of personal risks, talk your healthcare team to talk about your options and the best ways to stay healthy.

One way to lower your risk of ovarian cancer is to take birth control pills. According to the American Cancer Society, women who use oral contraceptives for five or more years have about a 50% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to women who never use them.

How Do I Get Tested?

Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is one of the more difficult cancers to diagnose as it is hard to find in the early stages. Unlike cervical cancer, ovarian cancer cannot be detected on a Pap test or HPV test. In addition to the lack of good screening tests for ovarian cancer, the symptoms of this disease can also be hard to recognize as they can be caused by things that aren’t cancer.

Symptoms can include:

  • Bloating or increased belly size
  • Pelvic or belly pain
  • Feeling full quickly or having trouble eating
  • Having to pee, or feeling like you have to pee, often

These symptoms are normal for many people, which is why they can go unnoticed or disregarded. What’s important to keep an eye out for is when these symptoms change from your normal. For example, if you notice they occur more often or become more severe. Should this happen, see your doctor so the problem can be found and treated if necessary.

If you have symptoms or are concerned about ovarian cancer because of personal risks, talk to your care team, or make an appointment with Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties by calling (714) 922-4100.